On Saturday, Pope Francis arrives in Cuba. Last week, Cuba announced that it’s pardoning 3,522 prisoners. Cause and effect in action – and that’s about all this gesture from the Cuban government likely means.

Those set to be pardoned are first-time offenders who committed nonviolent crimes. But none of the regime’s thousands of political prisoners are among them – and arrests and detentions on the island continue unabated.

It’s not the first time Cuba has made a show of releasing prisoners.

In 1978, Fidel Castro released almost 3,800 political prisoners in a deal with President Carter’s administration. Before that, of course, there was a deal brokered for the release of the Cubans captured during the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.

And twice before, in advance of papal visits, the Cuban government has released prisoners, all for show.

In January, a month after the U.S. announced it would re-establish diplomatic ties with the island, Cuba, as a show of good will, released 53 dissidents. Many of the prisoners, it turned out, had nearly served their sentences or been released months earlier. In other words, it was an empty gesture.

What Cuba really wants is to open its doors to U.S. business, investment and tourism as China and Vietnam have done. What it doesn’t want is its citizens speaking out against the government.

But it’s incumbent upon the United States to make clear that Cuba can’t have the former without eliminating its restrictions on the latter; without freeing its political prisoners, incarcerated on trumped-up charges and tried in kangaroo courts.

Cuba must to do more than these fake gestures of prisoner releases and offer up real, and permanent, human-rights reform.

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